Am I just tired or growung too old?
It is hardly any time at all since the October holiday, yet already I feel completely drained by the increasing demands of my job here at Greenfield Academy.
Admittedly, the week's break wasn't as successful as it might have been. Our decision to book a last-minute foreign holiday, with a mewling infant in tow and an awkward 10-year-old to boot, seemed like a good idea at the time, but let's just say that I shall never, ever again agree to a holiday with "accommodation allocated on arrival" as part of the booking conditions.
And I shall make absolutely certain that all baggage is weighed on the bathroom scales before we leave for the airport. What with Margaret's ghetto-blaster, Fraser's disposable nappies and Gail's outrageous wardrobe, we ended up forking out almost as much on excess baggage as the cost of the holiday!
Of course, it was none of those items that got the blame for our overspend: rather, Gail chose to pour all culpability on my shoulders for packing two sets of jotters so I could get on with some marking while we were away.
"My God, Morris!" I can still hear her voice echoing across the check-in area, as we frantically unpacked to see if we could send something back with Gail's dad, who was there to see us off. "You're taking jotters to mark on holiday? What a complete and absolute saddo you really are!"
I pulled myself up from the suitcases and used my most imperious tone. "I know of only one duty," I misquoted Camus slightly, "and that is to teach."
Unfortunately, Fraser chose that moment to vomit down his grandfather's shoulder, so we drew our argument to a hasty conclusion and agreed to pay the outrageous sum demanded by the check-in agent before the queue behind grew even more agitated. But it certainly took the shine off the holiday, I can tell you.
One of the advantages of teaching in a backwater such as Greenfield Academy has always been the fact that some of the madder excesses demonstrated in mainstream political correctness have managed to pass us by. Alas no more, if our headteacher's latest staff confrontation is to be believed.
"It's true, I tell you," said Sandra Bradford, our maths and home economics PT. "Pat Gibbon asked me this morning to consider not wearing this cross," she fingered it nervously, "in case it's viewed as an inflammatory religious symbol to our multi-ethnic community."
"You're joking," I responded. "What did you say?"
"Well, I told her it wasn't actually meant to be any kind of faith statement. I said that I just like it as a piece of jewellery."
"But presumably she still wanted you to remove ..."?
"Funnily enough, no," Sandra explained. "She said she just wanted to be on the safe side and thought it would probably be OK if I didn't have any religious beliefs behind the decision to wear it, but that she'd check with the education offices."
Heaven help us if anyone arrives at the door with a veil.
Gail was at Rockston Primary today for another visit to her colleagues before her maternity leave ends. She returned with news of further doings in the infant department, where Angela Morrissey had enjoyed an unusual interchange with a P1 pupil.
"Miss! Miss!" Scott Craig had apparently squeaked excitedly in her ear. "Ah've goat special new plaasters in ma bag. Thur very soaft an'
big. An' if ah fa' doon and need a plaster ah kin pit wan oan! An' ma pals kin get wan too if they fa' doon, 'cos ah've goat nine more o' them!"
Intrigued, Miss Morrissey had made further enquiry, only to discover the items so excitedly described were, in fact, pantie liners.
Remaining remarkably straight-faced, she had calmly suggested that Scott take the plasters back to his mother "in case anyone in the family falls down".
"And let's just put them in here, Scott," she concluded, pulling out a plain brown envelope.
To his credit, the boy had demurred without question. I guess they still do what you say in P1.
Mrs Gibbons has moved her attentions from religious sensibilities back to the world of educational initiatives. This time, she is jumping on board the twin bandwagons of personalised learning and able pupils,.
"I am concerned," her email to all staff this morning stated, "that we haven't moved forward together as a staff on the issue of personalised learning plans. I know that we are still ahead of many schools in tailoring educational experiences to individual pupils, but there is much still to do and I would appreciate an update from all heads of faculties as soon as possible.
"At the same time, it won't have escaped anyone's notice that Scottish Executive and HM Inspectorate of Education interest is about to focus on stretching our higher ability pupils. In a way, I am with the First Minister on this one, because we've put in place a range of effective policies at Greenfield Academy to ensure that no child is left behind. Now I want to ensure that no child is held back either, so that our best children become the best of the best."
It was interesting to watch the reactions of staff members as they logged on to collect their email. I counted six muted sniggers, four hearty guffaws and several oaths that are better left unrecorded.
Frank O'Farrell, of modern studies, was sharp enough to point out that he was sure the First Minister would be delighted that Mrs Gibbons was "with him on this one", especially as "she's used almost his exact bloody words from a two-week-old speech, with all that crap about catering for every child of every ability under the sun, at the same time as we're juggling 20 other initiatives with one hand tied behind our backs while trying to keep disciplinary mayhem at bay!"
It was a forceful reaction, it has to be said, although I suspect that the politician in O'Farrell will present a very differently worded report after his faculty meeting.
My mind went back to my late departed friend and mentor, David Pickup. As far as he was concerned, personalised learning started - and ended - by ensuring that every child wrote their own names on their jotters and textbooks.
But that was then. And this - sadly, in some respects - is now.
My week concluded, as it began, in a state of extreme exhaustion that has almost made me consider whether I am getting too old for the job.
To be fair to myself, this morning's tiredness was due in no small measure to Fraser keeping me awake for much of the night in a way that I don't remember his sister doing.
Happily, Gail has chosen to breastfeed our son, which means that I am removed from the onerous duty of warming the feed. Plus, of course, it is better for Fraser, which is the main reason for my approval.
However, even with the freedom to thrust my head beneath the pillow, I was unable to concentrate properly on getting back to sleep. So my arrival at school was a bleary-eyed occasion.
I managed to stagger through the day, but I must say it was a relief to reach the last period with my fifth year, who are attempting Romeo and Juliet (abridged) for their Higher. As usual, I had planned to use up a few periods showing them the Franco Zeffirelli film version, a decision that met with initial resistance from Jessica Charles, to name but one.
"Aw, surr!" she protested as the opening credits ran. "That's pure mingin'.
Ah thoat we'd be seein' the Leonardo DiCopulate wan."
That at least suggested she was heading some way towards recalling the all-important dramatis personae of the original play.
"DiCaprio, I think you meant, Jessica," I corrected her.
"I also think you'll find this is just as effective, if not more so," I assured her, as we settled into the soothing rhythm of this cinematic masterpiece, the class lights dimmed and the blinds drawn.
Alas, it was simply too soothing, as I discovered to my cost some 60 minutes later, when Mrs Gibbon shook me by the shoulder and alerted me to the fact that it was 10 minutes past end-of-day and my class had departed some 30 minutes previous.
"Mr Simpson, I think you'll find that your classes have a more effective learning experience if you manage to stay awake for the duration of the lesson," she reminded me brusquely.
She was right, of course, and I was appalled at my misdemeanour. But it did set me thinking: after 22 years in post, maybe the job is becoming too difficult to survive. I wonder if there are any packages in the offing?